In-Depth Speculation on How Disney World Gondola Project Will Take Shape

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Over the past few days, I’ve done quite a bit of research on modern-day gondola projects to get an idea for what the Disney system is going to look like, and how it’s going to operate. This article is pure speculation on my part, but I’ve linked to much of the information so you can evaluate it for yourself. As I’m a techie person, there is a lot of technical information in this article.

As you might imagine, there are only a few companies in the world that are specialized in building these cable-propelled transit systems. Doppelmayr/Graventa is probably the most prominent maker, and several of their systems are shown below. Another company active in this area is Leitner-Poma, which is the organization behind the 2010 renovation of the Roosevelt Island Tramway in New York City.

This photo is a gondola from a Doppelmayr system installed in Ischgl, Austria. Another system, pictured below, was installed in Whistler, BC, Canada. Called Peak2Peak, it connects the tops of the two mountains of the Whistler Blackcomb ski resort. The Peak2Peak opened in 2009. These systems are both Doppelmayr’s 3S model, otherwise known as a TGD system, which stands for “tricable gondola detachable.” I’ll explain more about what this means later in the article.

These gondola systems are state-of-the-art transportation systems – nothing like the old Skyway at Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Where the Skyway would hold 4 riders in each open-air ride vehicle, the Doppelmayr systems can carry up to 35 passengers in enclosed, climate-controlled comfort. These gondolas are fully wheelchair-accessible without the need for any sort of ramp like those required for the monorail.

How will the gondolas be an improvement upon busses? Well, how could you get any less magical than a bus?  Even parking lot trams are more fun. So gondolas have the wow factor that will make guests want to stay at the Caribbean Beach Resort or the Art of Animation, and will make DVC members want to buy at the upcoming Caribbean Beach DVC addition.

But beyond the wow, there are a number of practical advantages. A standard transit bus holds around 55 people.  Because of how long it takes to load 55 people onto a bus, make sure they are seated, make sure the strollers are folded, it’s not really possible to dispatch a bus more often than about every 90 seconds, in the most optimal situations.  Using these figures, we can calculate the hourly capacity of a bus line at 2200 passengers per hour, using 40 bus trips per hour, in a given direction. It is possible to increase this capacity by several means, including articulated busses, which have a rider capacity of 50%-100% more than standard busses, but the load time is also correspondingly longer, mitigating the capacity increase.  Articulated busses would also require reconfiguration of the bus stops at most resorts and possibly even at the parks, which is an additional infrastructure cost.

The capacity of the Whistler Blackcomb Peak2Peak gondola is 2500 people per hour using a 28-person vehicle and a dispatch interval of 49 seconds.  And this is at a ski resort, where riders will be carrying ski equipment with them. The BUGA system in Koblenz, Germany uses eighteen 35-passenger vehicles and has a capacity of 3800 passengers per hour per direction.

So we’ve got a more magical transportation system that is also more efficient at moving guests. Additionally, the gondola system will require fewer cast members to operate.  A bus system connecting Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and three hotels, is basically 5 routes. Moving 2200 people per hour across 5 routes is roughly 10,000 people per hour, which would require 100 busses according to Doppelmayr. At one driver per bus plus support personnel, that’s around 120 cast members. A gondola system can be safely operated with an order of magnitude fewer cast members. Four stations, staffed with 3-6 cast members each, is a huge improvement in labor costs.

The outlook for energy consumption is similarly amazing.  I won’t go into the details here, but the energy requirement for the motors the cable of the Whistler system is less than 3000 kWh per day.  At a cost of 12c per kWh, that’s $360 per day to operate the gondola. At today’s rates, that buys you around 150 gallons of diesel. Can you operate 100 busses on 150 gallons of fuel per day? Even if you take into account all the efficiencies Disney likely squeezes out of their bus operation, it’s still way cheaper to operate a gondola, not to mention the environmental benefits.

The entire length of the gondola system will be under 3 miles (4.8 km). For comparison, the Peak2Peak system is 4.4 km and was built for $57 million in 2009. The current Gillig busses used by Disney cost between $500,000-$700,000 each, and have a lifespan of around 12 years. The entire gondola system would cost less than the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, which reportedly cost around $100 million. It’s pretty clear that cost will not be an obstacle to this project.

The safety and comfort level of the system itself will also be a far cry from the Skyway of old. In addition to having climate-controlled vehicles that are fully wheelchair-accessible, the cabins can also be outfitted with infotainment systems and Wi-Fi. As many of these systems are installed at ski resorts, guests carrying bulky ski gear are not a problem.  Likewise, guests carrying luggage and strollers aboard will also be easy. And imagine not having to wait for a bus! You’ll be able to see your ride coming down the rope to the station, and never have to wonder if you just missed the last bus!

This picture of a Doppelmayr installation in Sochi, Russia, shows a view of the eight wheels on the carriage that support the gondola.  These systems utilize three cables (thus the “tricable” part of the TGD moniker). Two cables are fixed and provide the support to the gondola vehicle. The third cable moves and provides the propulsion. This gives the system maximum stability even in windy conditions. The eight wheels ride on the two fixed cables (called “ropes” in the industry) and thus give a very smooth ride.  You might remember the old Skyway jostling when going over support poles. This was because there was a single cable providing both support and propulsion, so the vehicle’s connection to the rope went right over those bumpy pulleys. In the TGD case, the fixed support cables go over the pulleys (or rather, the functional equivalent of pulleys in this system), and the gondola rides on top of the fixed support cables, thus ensuring a smooth journey.

And lastly, one similarity to the Skyway system is that these gondolas are “detachable” (the D in the TGD acronym). This means that the vehicles detach from the propulsion cable in the station, so that the vehicle can slow or stop to load and unload while the rest of the vehicles in motion are traveling at a higher speed. The videos below show this in detail. The WDW Skyway system also did this, but many other ski-lift-type systems do not, so you have to position yourself in front of the moving seat, sit, and pull down the lap bar, all while the system is moving at its full speed. This detachability also allows for the vehicles to be moved off the system for storage or maintenance (see the Penkenbahn video around the 2:05 mark). This is also how the system can make 90 degree turns: the vehicles can actually be detached from one ropeway and moved onto another ropeway that is situated perpendicular to the first.

Doppelmayr has also designed these TGD systems with safety in mind.  According to the product description:

To enable all passengers to be safely returned to solid ground in an emergency scenario, an innovative recovery concept was developed for 3S lifts. All functionally relevant parts and equipment are duplicated and independent of one another. The aim of this novel development was to provide the technical and organizational means to ensure that all cabins can always be safely returned to the nearest station.

This is actually a step up from safety in the monorail system, in which a disabled train must be towed to a station by a work tractor. The duplicate backup equipment can actually run the entire gondola system on its own, returning guests to the nearest station.

Below are some videos of various Doppelmayr TGD gondola systems for your enjoyment. Doppelmayr has also produced a 20-page brochure highlighting the advantages of its ropeways called “Ropeways in the Urban Environment” that is a free download. Additionally, the company’s 2016 Annual Report has details about the 103 ropeway installations the company performed in 2015.

I’ll be happy to try and answer questions in the comments section. Please note the Merriam Webster dictionary lists busses as a perfectly acceptable plural form of the word bus, so yes, this post was spell-checked and passed with flying colors.

UPDATE: WFTV contacted me for comments on the gondola system. The video of the news clip is embedded below.

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About the author

Jason Diffendal

Jason has been a lifelong fan of the Disney parks since his first visit at age 2. His biennial pilgrimages during his childhood accelerated into semi-annual visits by the year 2000, when he also Joined the Disney Vacation Club. Luckily, Jason’s bride-to-be was also a Disney fan, which allowed his infatuation with the Disney parks to continue, and ultimately culminated in their wedding at Disney's Wedding Pavilion in September 2003. Early in 2007, Jason began his involvement with the planning for what became Celebration 25, the unofficial fan gathering to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Epcot®. Soon thereafter, Jason met Tom Corless at a pin trading meet in New Jersey, and became part of the WDW News Today podcast starting with Episode 17. Jason has been involved with the WDWNT Network ever since, and can't seem to escape no matter how hard he tries.
Contact Jason at [email protected]

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Philip Allred
Guest
Philip Allred

Do you have any idea when they will shoot to finish this system?

Lover of Gondolas at WDW
Guest
Lover of Gondolas at WDW

Do you think this will change the per night rack rate for Pop Century? Wouldn’t it be hard to justify a similar rate for All-Star Resorts with Pop having this premium amenity?

Michael W.
Guest
Michael W.

What a great article, thanks for putting in all the time and research to show the numbers.

Ryan
Guest
Ryan

How would this system perform in Florida lightning and wind scenarios?

Bill
Guest
Bill

Will there ever be open windows? Or is there a fear that stupid people might throw stuff out? Or “accidentally” fall out? A hermetically sealed container just doesn’t sound that fun to me.

JimDisney
Guest
JimDisney

Nice job on the article

Luke
Guest
Luke

I wonder how the hourly capacity compares to the monorail?

Jim
Guest
Jim

Just curious why they are not running a line to Disney Springs and some of the other resort hotels on the EPCOT side of the property.

Keith
Guest
Keith

I wouldn’t put much stock into Webster’s dictionary…they often adopt new words, definitions, and spellings simply based on a preponderance of incorrect usage. If enough people use a word incorrectly, Webster’s will reward the laziness and/or ignorance…counter-intuitively contributing to the devolution of the convention for which they are a presumed resource.

Ryan B
Guest
Ryan B

You and your friends can board some busses and get out of here with that thinking, mister.

Big Brass Buses
Guest
Big Brass Buses

You can bend down and give my buses a nice spit shine.

Kevin
Guest
Kevin

It’s an antiquated form of the word that most stopped using decades ago.

Bob Iger
Guest
Bob Iger

Your article and everything this site presents on this subject are pure conjecture and not real news. YOu are not reporting on an actual event or even have facts to support it. All you know is that some concrete and utility boxes are being installed around the property. If you have sources to back your info, then at least say so. Otherwise this is again FAKE NEWS.

Elizabeth
Guest
Elizabeth

What part of “In-Depth Speculation” did you not understand?

Billiam
Guest
Billiam

What part of don’t feed the trolls do you not understand?

Elizabeth Rowe
Guest
Elizabeth Rowe

Yes, it definitely makes the most sense to attack me in this situation. Well done.

Zombies_Grace
Guest
Zombies_Grace

Some other insiders on some other site are saying that the system will be closer to a 10-person gondola rather than a 30-person one.

They also say the gondolas will not have A/C or heating. There will instead be vents below and above for circulation of air. The gondolas will have shielding to block direct heating from the sun.

And they say it’s definitely Doppelmayr.

Now, any ‘insider’ can have wrong info, or info that gets changed. But does this site have an insider saying it’s definitely a 30-person A/C gondola, or is that just speculation?

TimP
Guest
TimP

The gondola system has no direct ride between parks. Makes park hopping more complicated by increasing the ride. The natural extension is to Animal Kingdom and the various resorts surrounding it including the Value resorts. On the east side of Epcot sits many other moderate resorts that can do without the bus rides. Disney has to design their resorts with transportation in mind. Seem logical, but it isn’t always so. Example, why no direct tram ride between Epcot and DHS? Also, Disney doesn’t design their resorts with pedestrians in mind. You can’t just walk to the parks. There are too… Read more »

Disney Pete
Guest
Disney Pete

Awesome research Tom. Kudos

Disney Pete
Guest
Disney Pete

Sorry. I meant Jason

PeterGriffin
Guest
PeterGriffin

What will be the fate of the FriendShip Boats?

Joe Fratianni
Guest
Joe Fratianni

As an avid skier I love this idea. Gondolas are always magical no matter how many times you ride in them. Most ski areas have 4 to 6 person gondolas so something dramatically bigger will be really interesting. No question: when a ski area wants to increase capacity dramatically – they add a gondola. One thing that I love about gondolas is how they travel high above the surrounding landscape to give a great view of the work below. I am somewhat worried that with the flat Florida landscape and the need to avoid any visual impact to the surrounding… Read more »

Mike Shook
Guest
Mike Shook

Isn’t Orlando the lightning capitol of the world? Would they have to shut down during the frequent summer storms?

TallBaldGeek
Guest
TallBaldGeek

In the speculative maps that I’ve seen posted (such as the one at the top of the April 2nd post here http://wdwnt.com/blog/2017/04/walt-disney-world-gondola-system-foundation-construction-begin/ ), I can’t figure out why there is this assumption that there will not be a connection directly between Epcot and DHS. Are these gondolas that you researched not able to switch cables at a turn? It would seem like there could be the option to connect the “turn” just after leaving Epcot to the station shown at DHS. Or is that type of connection not possible with this system? Either way, this system would have me seriously… Read more »

Emma
Guest
Emma

There is actually an in park gondola system in the Alton Towers theme park in the UK, have a nosy at it if you want to see how it works in a theme park setting.
It gets shut down for high winds and lightning but this thing is 25+ years old and still running smoothly.

Norm
Guest
Norm

NO WAY this thing will actually materialize, and if it does, it won’t run most of the time. Mostly from Disney not staffing it correctly, and the rest from harsh Florida weather. We get thunderstorms 29/30 days of the year. Disney also hasn’t spent much money in their parks. They did in Disney Springs (an essential mall), but not on transportation, rides, etc.

AndrewZ
Guest
AndrewZ

1) Enough sites are reporting this story, so it’s likely going to happen 2) There will be more up-time than down-time. Yes, there are a lot of storms…but they blow through quickly. Similar to when roller coasters go down in storms, you basically just need a 15-minute break after the last known lightening strike to turn the system back on. 3) Why would Disney not staff it? They would be shutting down a few bus routes anyway – saving on labor. 4) Umm….are you not aware of the plethora of changes coming to WDW costing $ billions?! You basically gave… Read more »